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Mayor’s veto sends mixed message

Council's 3 Minutes

I am very disappointed in the administration’s decision to veto Bill 60, which establishes a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for new visitor accommodations and visitor accommodation expansions in South and West Maui. In doing so, the mayor is choosing to oppose the will of Maui County residents.

Since May, the moratorium was the subject of multiple meetings and at each stage along the way to passage the council heard from an overwhelming majority of community members who supported the bill and were concerned by the uncontrolled growth of the visitor industry. When Hawai’i reopened to tourism after COVID vaccines significantly lowered the number of positive cases, the influx of visitors exceeded all expectations and exacerbated an already widely held, pre-pandemic sentiment that the industry is out of balance with the needs of residents, and that communities should rethink the role of the industry going forward.

Bill 60 is an opportunity to give the South and West Maui communities a pause in visitor accommodation growth until community plans are enacted, to ensure development follows the input of area residents. The current volume of visitors exceeds the guidance of our Maui Island Plan, and residents know this in a very personal way when they are crowded out of their favorite places, stuck in traffic or dealing with ill-mannered tourists.

In the Hawai’i Tourism Authority’s most recent Resident Sentiment Survey, it asked, “Using a 10-point scale where 10 means extremely important and 1 means not important at all, how important is it that the state not allow building of additional hotel/condo/timeshare units on my island to help better manage tourism?” Maui County residents gave an average score of 7.90, the highest of any county in the state, indicating that stopping the building of additional accommodations is an important priority for the community.

The mayor got attention earlier this month by stating we need a pause in tourism and asking major airlines to reduce flights to Maui. However, as the mayor himself mentioned, the county has no authority over airlines or airports.

The County Council stepped up to proactively use one of the legal tools afforded us — the regulation of building permits. It is a sad contradiction for the mayor to state publicly that he wants a pause in the influx of visitors and yet fight for the development of more places for them to stay.

For years, we have heard the mayor and industry representatives emptily claim that we are “on our way” to better managed tourism while little serious action followed, visitor numbers skyrocketed and the quality of life and our unique environmental resources continue to erode. The moratorium pauses visitor accommodation construction, addresses the injury residents are feeling and gives stakeholders an opportunity to create solutions without simultaneously making things worse.

The mayor’s veto announcement makes unsubstantiated claims, including that Bill 60 violates the County Charter and has legal deficiencies. He did not identify what those supposed “legal pitfalls” are. Bill 60 was drafted by attorneys in the Office of Council Services who have assured the council that the bill is legally defensible. In court rulings across the nation, states and municipalities have long been afforded substantial discretion in establishing development moratoria.

As with the lawsuit brought by environmental groups who have sued the county for the use of injection wells in Lahaina –which the administration has spent immense taxpayer resources pursuing only to repeatedly lose in court — the mayor is using Corporation Counsel as an agent to impose policy opinion rather than provide impartial legal advice to both the council and mayor as mandated by the County Charter.

I thank and applaud my colleagues on the council for listening to the needs of the community and supporting Bill 60. Mahalo nui to members of the public for submitting your testimony and sharing your stories regarding this important topic. With the vote of six supporting council members, we can overturn the mayor’s veto of Bill 60. The veto override is scheduled to be considered at the Aug. 6 County Council meeting. I humbly ask for the public’s continued support of this sensible policy which is the first step in developing the tourism management solutions we’ve been promised by the industry for the past few years.

* Council Member Kelly Takaya King holds the South Maui residency seat and serves as the chairperson of the Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee. She originally introduced Bill 60.

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